Predicting Alabama’s best fishing for a given month is a little like forecasting weather. After considering trends and making assumptions, there remains an element of uncertainty and luck, which basically describes the sport of fishing.
There are, however, certain areas that are proven locations, though rarely does the hottest fishing fit perfectly within a month, as actually weather conditions must be considered.
Regardless, here are 36 fishing opportunities, by month, to consider in 2016.
Wheeler Lake Blue Catfish
Dedicated trophy catfish hunters love cold water. In early January last year, Capt. Jason Bridges (www.wheelercatsguideservice.com) guided John Nordyke of Missouri to a spot on the lower section of Wheeler Lake where he caught a 105-pound blue catfish.
“Typically, January does not produce numbers of fish,” Bridges revealed, “but it’s an excellent time to catch big fish.”
To find monster catfish, Bridges looks for snags, rocks and holes in or adjacent to the river channel and secondary creek channels.
The 105-pounder came from a concrete and rock structure 45-feet deep on the bottom of the river channel. During winter, Bridges concentrates on fishing the lower section of the lake.
OTHER OPTIONS: In winter, when a north wind blows the water from the shallow bays of the Mobile Delta, largemouth bass fishing heats up along the causeway. The best places to find striped bass this month are the creek mouths on Smith Lake.
Mobile Delta Bluegill
Former fisheries supervisor Joe Zolczynski of Fairhope considers the Mobile Delta a bluegill destination in February.
“When we get a few warm days in the Delta,” Zolczynski said, “bluegill fishing can be phenomenal in creeks with deep holes. Anglers will also catch redear and warmouth, but the number one fish would be the bluegill, which weigh about a third of a pound.”
Zolczynski’s favorite places for landing a limit of bream are Sabine Pass, Mallard Fork, Mud Hole Creek and the creek leading into Bay John.
An excellent location for shore fishing is the Meaher State Park Pier. The causeway also has many road accessible fishing areas.
OTHER OPTIONS: Given normal winter weather, the Jones Bluff spotted bass fishery is tremendous. Anglers catch 5-pound spots on crankbaits and spinnerbaits from river-run gravel bars.
Also this month, Escambia County Lake offers an opportunity to catch trophy largemouth.
Lake Guntersville Largemouth Bass
In March, anglers fishing Lake Guntersville typically catch pre-spawn fish weighing 3 to 4 pounds, with enough 5- to 6-pounders to keep excitement levels high. Moreover, there is always the possibility of hooking a 10-pounder.
“The numbers of bass are phenomenal in March,” said Mike Carter (www.anglingadventures.info) of Flatrock. “If you find the right flat and grass edge, it’s not unusual to catch 40 to 50 fish.”
One of Carter’s primary patterns this month is to fish grassy flats adjacent to deep water. He uses side-imaging sonar to find fish-holding points or indentions in the weed line at depths of 8 to 10 feet.
OTHER OPTIONS: On Millers Ferry this month, anglers catch large stringers of 1 1/2-pound crappie. To locate spawning crappie in Bogue Chitto, Rum and Gee creeks, anglers target coves with hard bottoms. March is also an excellent month for catching smallmouth on Pickwick Lake.
Mobile Bay Sheepshead
“Sheepshead fishing is on fire in April as the water warms up,” said Capt. DeJuan Tedder (www.gulfadventuresfishing.com). “In April, the weather is predictable. The water has warmed to a temperature where there are a lot of fish and they are biting.”
In April of last year, Branden Collier of Irvington caught a state record sheepshead weighing 13 pounds, 9 ounces, but average size of most caught are between 3 and 10 pounds.
Sheepshead are easily caught from man-made structures in the bay. Collier caught his record fish while tied to a beacon, and Tedder recommends fishing one of the bays’ many gas rigs.
OTHER OPTIONS: April signals the beginning of the best shellcracker fishing of spring on Gantt Lake. The cypress-covered shallow flats at the head of the lake attract large concentrations of spawning shellcrackers. Also, cobia fishing is in full swing off Orange Beach.
Gainesville Lake Crappie
“This stretch of the Tombigbee River produces as many crappie year in and year out as anywhere,” reported Jay Haffner, District III fisheries supervisor.
“Crappie like high water conditions in winter and green stable water in the summer. For the most part, that — and the good habitat — is why the Tombigbee produces good crappie fishing.”
In May, anglers report catching limits of 10- to 12-inch crappie, with big fish weighing 1 1/2 pounds. The crappie are post spawn and have moved from the banks to cypress trees and the stump rows along the creeks in water from 6- to 8-feet deep. The key is to fish slowly.
OTHER OPTIONS: In May, fish for pre-spawn and spawning bluegill in 3 to 7 feet of water on Lake Guntersville. Look for beds near an early growth of milfoil in Short and Town creeks. Fishing buzzbaits on Lake Eufaula for largemouth can be exciting.
Orange Beach Red Snapper
With about 1,030 square miles of offshore waters, Alabama’s artificial reef program is the largest in the nation. This exceptional red snapper habitat is one factor in their increase in size and numbers.
Capt. Randy Boggs of Orange Beach says the average red snapper weight has increased to 6 1/2 pounds, and it’s not unusual for anglers to land fish weighing 10 to 18 pounds on trips.
“To catch big snapper,” Boggs explained, “fish with half a cigar minnow on a 5/0 circle hook and only lower it halfway or less to the bottom. The big snapper suspend well above the artificial reefs.”
OTHER OPTIONS: Summer has arrived, yet it’s still possible to catch 3- to 5-pound spotted bass on Lake Jordan. The big spots feed on shad where long points meet the river channel. June is also a good month to catch king mackerel near artificial reefs using live bait.
Logan Martin Lake Flathead Catfish
“Last year was an exceptional year for flatheads on Logan Martin,” reported Barry Hagan tournament angler from Childersburg. “On an average day, I caught eight over 23 pounds. I also caught several weighing more than 40 pounds, with the largest tipping the scales at 54 pounds.”
During July and August, Hagan fishes the upper riverine section of the lake between the I-20 Bridge and the Neely Henry Dam.
To find flathead habitat, he uses down-imaging sonar to locate current breaks formed by snags and rocks, and depressions on the bottom. Hagan says depressions have the greatest potential to hold big fish.
OTHER OPTIONS: July is a great month to catch whiting from the surf at Fort Morgan. Use a 6-foot rod with 10-pound-test monofilament to fish dead shrimp in the trough before the first sandbar. Another excellent option is fly-fishing for rainbow trout on Sipsey Fork.
Bankhead Lake Channel Catfish
For the end of summer, take the family jug fishing at night for channel catfish on Bankhead Lake. Jugging for catfish is pure fun-filled anticipation for kids.
“When setting out jugs on Bankhead in summer,” instructed Jay Haffner, “look for structure that intersects the water column at depths of 4 to 10 feet on the main lake. Shallow-sloping points, flats with stumps and drop-offs along the channel are all good places to drift jugs for catfish.
Adjust the length of the lines to keep the hooks off the bottom. Also, the main lake has current for drifting jugs.” Fresh chicken liver is the most popular bait.
OTHER OPTIONS: This is a prime month for catching flathead catfish at night from the deep holes on the Conecuh River below the Point “A” Dam. On Weiss Lake, crappie fishing is good under bridges and lighted docks.
Lake Eufaula Hybrid Striped Bass
Ken Weathers, District IV fisheries supervisor targets hybrid striped bass on Lake Eufaula from late August to early October. He says fish average 1 to 2 pounds and big fish weigh 5 to 6 pounds.
“This is prime time for hybrids,” Weathers said. “During this time, my family and I enjoy fishing for hybrids more than anything else. We troll deep-diving crankbaits on channel ledges and points at creek mouths in 20 to 25 feet of water.
Using your sonar, look for the fish to suspend about 15-feet deep. I troll with lures that reach depths of 9 to 12 feet. The best fishing is from late afternoon until dark.”
OTHER OPTIONS: On the Alabama River, below Claiborne Dam, channel catfish are easy to find and catch when there is current. Fish favorite bait where the current breaks. September is also great time to fish Guntersville’s weedbeds for largemouth.
Smith Lake Spotted Bass
“On a good day in October, an angler can catch 50 spotted bass on Smith,” said Craig Daniel, tournament angler and guide (256-347-4096) from Cullman. “The fish will weigh 2 1/2 to 3 pounds and will be fat from eating blueback herring.”
To find spots, Daniel looks for herring, as it is the most important factor in finding fish. He says sometimes the herring give their location away when fish are busting them on the surface, but mostly he relies on sonar to search for them at depths of 5 to 12 feet.
“The best lures that time of the year are Zara Spooks and buzzbaits,” said Daniel.
OTHER OPTIONS: In October, the Wheeler Dam tailrace is an excellent location for smallmouth bass. Drifting live shad along the rocky bottom catches more fish than any other method. Also, anglers will find limits of crappie schooling along creek channels on Aliceville Lake.
Pickwick Lake Smallmouth Bass
“Fishing Pickwick in November offers anglers a chance to catch a giant smallmouth of a lifetime,” said Jimmy Mason (www.jimmymasonbasspro.com) from Florence. I have several clients that catch 7-pounders every November.”
To connect with a trophy, Mason recommends drift-fishing river ledges from Florence down to the Waterloo area with live threadfin shad.
“It’s just like summer ledge fishing,” he said. “Use sonar to look for fish along the deeper ledges, offshore rock piles and deep bluffs. The key is to find hard breaks created by vertical deep-water structure. When the fish are feeding, anglers will find them positioned on top of the structure.”
OTHER OPTIONS: As water cools, flounder migrate into the Gulf to use artificial reefs as feeding stations and staging areas to spawn. Most fish weigh 1 to 5 pounds. Also, striped bass fishing is excellent on Smith Lake.
Lake Martin Striped Bass
Before striper guide Steve Smith (205 365-5226) begins a trip on Lake Martin, he stops to catch redhorse suckers from the Neely Henry tailrace. The hardy 12-inch suckers produce aggressive strikes from Martin’s striped bass. Smith targets fish weighing 25 to 40 pounds.
To fish suckers, Smith rigs the bait so that it appears free-swimming about 35 feet behind side-planer boards, which he trolls in creeks having points that drop off into deep water.
“Stripers will chase suckers to the top,” Smith said. “When you see a sucker surface, get close to your rod; something is about to happen. When a striper blows up on the bait, they will put on quite a show.”
OTHER OPTIONS: Find shad on the upper reaches on Lake Mitchell and you will find spotted bass ready to strike spinnerbaits and jigs. Fish these lures on the steep banks just out of the current. Blue catfish remain active on Wheeler Lake during December.